Preparing for College

Alum Letter for ED-Deferred Applicant?

Question: If deferred from an Early Decision school, do you think it would be helpful to my case to get an letter of recommendation from an alum? How important are alumni letters of recommendation? Will a college consider them annoying or extremely beneficial in the application process?

More often than not, alumni letters are fairly meaningless, but sometimes they can be worth pursuing. When?

1. If the alumnus or alumna involved is a huge deal at your target college (e.g., big-time donor, trustee, extremely active in alumni affairs, a VIP in the world at large), then his or her support might help your candidacy.

2. If this alum knows you very well and explains exactly how, noting that you would be the perfect addition to his or her alma mater. Less weight is given to letters that begin, "Leo's father and I went to summer camp together, and the one time I met this young man, when he was 9, I was very impressed by him."

3. If the application offers some specific and significant information that the admissions committee has not seen before. For example, if the alum is a neighbor who discloses serious problems in your family that you've handled with maturity and determination or an employer who describes in detail your unique talents in the workplace.

Most beneficial is a letter that falls into more than one of these categories (e.g., an important alumnus who's known you since you were an infant). Even then, there's no guarantee that it will be helpful, but, if you were a strong contender to begin with and just missed the cut, it could make a difference. Don't worry, however. It's highly unlikely that an alum letter will ever hurt your chances or be considered annoying.